Coal Is Thicker Than Water – The Justified Season 6 Finale
Over the six seasons of its run, “Justified” has pointed toward only one end: a final showdown between Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and his chief antagonist, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). The FX series often looked and felt like a modern-day western. Despite its setting in economically depressed Eastern Kentucky coal country, Raylan’s iconic cowboy hat and gun worn on his hip made him look like Wyatt Earp forever in search of his own O.K. Corral. The question has always been when? When would Raylan and Boyd finally draw down on each other?
Since the series could not last if Boyd was the only bad guy, a procession of others brought the malice each season. This allowed for unique triangles each season: Raylan dealt with the criminal while Boyd made business arrangements with that character. Both men were equal threats to the villain of that year. By season’s end, the latest baddie having been dispatched, the marshal and the crime boss would find themselves looking at each other warily once again.
For season 6, the series brought in a fairly big name to be a villain: Sam Elliott. As drug kingpin Avery Markham, Elliott rolled into Kentucky with a scheme to buy up land at depressed prices. Once he owned the land, he planned to corner the increasingly growing market for legal marijuana. Then Boyd and girlfriend Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) stole $10 million from him. As the final episode began, Markham is holding Ava hostage and tells Boyd it would cost him every penny of it to get her back.
Unbeknownst to Markham, Boyd has reasons to not want Ava back. She subsequently stole the money from Boyd, shooting him as she tried to skip town. She also had confessed to him that she got out of prison at the end of season 5 by agreeing to spy on Boyd for the feds, turning up evidence that will lock him up for life. Now he holds her life in his hands.
Despite his better judgment, Boyd goes to meet with Markham. Not wasting a lot of time on the unique line readings that have made his character such a delight, Boyd pulls a gun. Dispatching Markham (with a bullet through the eye) and his henchmen, Boyd now turns his gun on Ava. He pulls the trigger on an empty chamber. As hurt as he is angry, he asks her why she betrayed him. She tells him that “I just did what I thought you would do.” The heartbreak at hearing that from his own true love suddenly brings him up short.
Raylan now arrives. Seeing the carnage, he sees only one bad guy left. He will finally have his showdown with Boyd. When Boyd tells him his gun is empty, the marshal slides one over to him on the floor. Nothing will stop him from a final settling of affairs.
Except for one thing: Boyd. Still reeling from Ava’s admission, he refuses to pick up the gun. He peacefully surrenders to other lawmen who arrive on the scene. What, no climactic gunfight? Say it ain’t so! It’s not supposed to end this way, right? As Raylan packs up his desk and leaves for Miami, it looks like everything will end with a whimper instead of a literal bang.
No, it’s not the way it ended. A title card appears: “4 Years Later.” Raylan happily plays with his young daughter Willa at a park. His ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea) arrives with her new husband. Despite the fact that they couldn’t make it work, the exes look comfortable with each other and at peace. Raylan no longer wears his Stetson (it got shot in the finale), opting for a more modern hat. All looks great in his world until he is sent a picture from a Southern California paper with a very familiar looking woman.
Ava escaped in a final shootout (the one in which Raylan’s cowboy hat was ventilated) and disappeared. Raylan finds her living near Los Angeles. He also finds a little boy. She was pregnant with Boyd’s child when she fled. Now she begs Raylan not to let Boyd know where she is. Sympathetic to her plight, he agrees to tell Boyd they just learned she died trying to escape and the body was just now found.
He makes one trip back to eastern Kentucky. Boyd has adjusted well to his incarceration. In a nod to his brief stint as an evangelist in season 1, he preaches to his fellow inmates not to follow his bad example. Boyd takes the news about Ava with regret instead of anger. Much like Raylan, the end of his career as a crime lord brought him a sense of peace. He realizes that Raylan did not have to tell him the news personally, so he asks why he did so. Looking at the marshal, he gets his answer: “We dug coal together,” Boyd tells him in the last reference to the fact that they started out at the same place as teenagers. “That’s right,” Raylan responds. They look at each other through the thick glass that separates them and realize they will always be bonded together by their shared pasts.
All the credit for this touching conclusion goes to the makers of “Justified.” It would have been easy to give the audience what they expected, the 21st-century draw between the antagonists. By defying our expectations, they found something much richer and memorable. Although it may not be remembered as one of TV’s all-time great shows (the Emmys apparently never knew the series aired), “Justified” went out on a high note. Everyone connected with this series can feel justifiable pride in their achievement.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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